March 22, 2010

iPad Coming out April 3rd - Revolution or Snooze?

I enjoyed my Gateway touch screen laptop. Turned around, the screen was a great place for the cat to lay on .... better than the lumpy keyboard any day!! So, I wonder how the iPad will change how we work with computers .... if it will. I'm old enough to remember not only the touchscreen Gateway ... the less hyped technology that did not change our lives or the way we use computers ... but also such catastrophic failures as the iPaq, which pretty much ruined by relationship with IDS, thank you very much.

Meanwhile, enjoy the bit of humor from LOL Catz. Thanks to them, whenever I think of the word catastrophic, I end up there for some lolz.

humorous pictures
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

Posted by bjohnson at 10:06 AM

March 19, 2010

A use for crowd sourcing

Take a moment to pop over to Luther College's library and information services blog and read their description of what is essentially a focused, online suggestion box.

This little college in the middle of no-where gets it. Social media is not the enemy of academia unless we make it so. Maybe they understand the future roaring down on us because they must reach out and intentionally use communication tools to connect with the larger world. As I well remember from summers in Le Sueur, MN, you appreciate communication when it is a break from isolation. But for whatever reason, they are leading in directions we should consider adopting.

So why is this little crowd sourcing tool use so cool?

1) It is virtually (pun intended) any time any where place to jot down creative ideas to a problem. Rather than wait for one meeting a year where we frantically brainstorm and vote, this service allows people to record their creative ideas soon after they have them, whenever they have them. And as anyone who works on creativity in business (and yes, a university is a business) knows, people are creative thinkers at the strangest times. In the shower, upon waking up, when they go to sleep, when they exercise, etc. This sort of tool allows them to be creative 365 days a year instead of one. Think of the great ideas that could be captured in volume!

2) It is open to the stakeholders as well as the providers. If there is one thing that the U is very bad at, it is including the people who are affected by decisions in making them. Crowd sourcing would not only get new ideas from them but also allow them to vote on the ideas that would affect them most. This gives the service providers some idea of what to tackle first or where to invest the most effort and resources. While we often think we know what the biggest problems are, we are often wrong. Or we overlook the little nagging things that don't seem to be important (like dripping pipes) but that add up over time.

3) It puts this information in one place. Right now, we have no single place (at least at UMD) for feedback and suggestions that relate to computing services. Depending upon who you know, you might email the Director or call the Help Desk. Or talk to your friendly neighborhood tech -- centralized or college-based. But these ideas get scattered across numerous departments and lodged in the memory of many people ... most of whom are not allowed to attend strategic planning meetings because that's above their pay scale.

I've suggested centralized systems in the past without success. It would cross too many boundaries and threaten power silos, I suspect. But there are places where these emerging tools are being used successfully to get work ... and yest teaching and learning .... done. Like fire --- they can be threatening, but they could help us do our jobs too.

Posted by bjohnson at 7:05 AM

March 18, 2010

Addiction or shift?

This morning, I'm sipping my coffee and reading the news, switching between print (the New York Times) and my trusty electronic feeds (via Google reader). Since I'm focused on the educational potential of online tools, I stopped to track down and read this article from Ars Technica on addiction to social media.

As is usual, I find myself mulling a difficult question or two. And I haven't even had my second cup of coffee (don't get me started on addictions ....)!

First off, as the article points out, defining behavioral addictions is problematic and open to debate. Many addiction specialists question the label "addiction" applied to compulsive behavior. And many Madison Avenue behavioral shapers simply enjoy the income. But that's not the question I am focused on today.

My question is: is this really new behavior? Or is it just shifted to a new medium? And how would we study this question?? I only ask because, as I reflect on my own use of social media and slick devices, I do not see substantial changes in behavior other than the fact that I can now do things once instead of twice.

Let me explain. Back in the old days, when I carried around a DayTimer instead of an iPhone, I'd spend a substantial amount of time --- at odd moments of the day --- making notes about what I needed to do when business hours started: who needed to be contacted, what memos needed to be written, what newspaper article I needed to clip and file, etc. And I do mean at all hours of the day. Being a multi-tasker and insomniac from my teens, it was not unusual for me to be up at 4 am writing out reports long-hand on a legal pad so that a secretary could type them up when normal people started working.

Now, I drink my coffee and read the paper as always, but I can file clips (in the form of URLs) immediately (in Endnote or star them in Google Reader). Instead of making myself a note to remind my students of a paper due next week, I can send it out now via Twitter or the Moodle news feed. I type up my own memos (more likely emails) and can send them out at 4 am, if that is when I'm thinking of it ... instead of making notes and hoping I'll remember what I was thinking about. Does this mean that I'm addicted to social media? Or was I addicted to (something .... work perhaps) before social media came along?

People frequently make a big deal about how we text or read electronic media in bed ... but how is that different from the prior sins of reading fiction or watching TV before falling asleep? I'd argue that a quiet game of Bejeweled is more relaxing than watching the nightly news, but I think I'll leave that question to those who feel like researching it (anyone want to get wired up in the sleep lab?).

Instead, I'll continue to wonder if we are all Rip Van Winkle, suddenly waking up and forgetting the progression of the past 50 years. We did not suddenly become a sedentary, media focused society with the invention of the smart phone. We've been sitting and amusing ourselves with cheap paperbacks, readily available newspapers, crossword puzzles and TV for decades. Is the shift to electronic media really increasing our consumption of media? Or do we just notice it now that we're not consuming the privileged print as much as we are the disruptive electronic forms?

Posted by bjohnson at 8:11 AM

March 17, 2010

Can Gaming Make a Better World?

An interesting talk about how WoW and other games are impacting our world --- and what they are making gamers good at can be found at TED - look for Jane McGonigal's talk "Gaming can make a better world".

As a gamer who is also interested in using virtual worlds and video games as educational tools, I naturally like to hear ways in which games are helping society instead of signaling its tragic end.

Take a few minutes (about 20 of them) to listen to her argument and tell us what you think! In particular, at the end, she talks about some of the games she is creating that actually may train players to think strategically about real world problems and make real, lasting life changes.

Posted by bjohnson at 4:47 PM